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If you’re looking for bruises and split lips, you could be missing the signs that your teen is in an abusive relationship. Many of us think of physical violence when we think of abuse when in fact, there’s a much more common and equally dangerous threat to your child: Emotional abuse.
According to SafeYouth.com, 96 percent of teens say they’ve been emotionally or psychologically abused by a dating partner. How is that possible? If the problem is so common, why haven’t you heard about it before?
Only 9 percent of teens experiencing abuse ever seek help from a parent or teacher. That means 91 percent say nothing, or speak only to a peer. Many of them aren’t even sure they’re in an unhealthy relationship. To your teen, emotional abuse can masquerade as love.
If only you loved me enough, you would…
You don’t trust me or else you’d…
I’d do anything for you, why won’t you…
If you leave me, I’ll kill myself…
This is the type of manipulation that abusers use to control their partner. It doesn’t leave bruises, but it can be just as deadly. Abusers shred the self-esteem of your child, work to isolate them from family and friends, and then control and manipulate their behavior—all in the name of love. Here's what you need to know:
1. Recognize the signs.
•Sudden changes in appearance, diet or sleeping habits
•A drop in grades or less participation in outside or school activities
•Avoiding friends or family
•Becoming secretive or withdrawn
•Making excuses for the dating partner
•Constantly checking cell phone or email. Responding immediately when contacted by dating partner
2. Steps to helping a teen in an unhealthy relationship:
If you suspect your child might be in an unhealthy relationship, there are a few things you can do.
•Approach the discussion from a place of curiosity rather than blame
•Focus on your teen and not the abuser.
•Ask questions: How is your relationship going? What are you struggling with right now?
3. Make use of resources:
Teens are not always comfortable talking to their parents or other adults about these issues. Let them know there are organizations that offer 24/7 help and support including chat lines where your teen can talk to other teens.
Where to start:
As parents, the most important thing we can do is to teach our children from a very young age to respect themselves. Yes, it’s important to care about others, but we must not forget to tell them it’s okay to care about themselves. They matter. And they should never sacrifice who they are, not for anyone or anything—not even for love.
Amy Fellner Dominy is a former advertising copywriter, MFA playwright and hula-hoop champion. Her novels for teens and tweens include Die For You (11/8/16); A Matter of Heart, Audition & Subtraction; and OyMG, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book. Amy’s first picture book, Cookiesaurus Rex, will be published by Disney, Fall 2017. Amy lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband, various pets and two children who occasionally stop by for free meals. Learn more about Amy Fellner Dominy at amydominy.com